November Chills

Or… lack thereof, really. I don’t really have a very good memory so I was curious as to whether my subjective “last year was way colder at this time of year, the garden felt more ‘over’ for the year ” was true and went in search of photos.  Turns out I had actually underestimated quite how cold it was last November and how bare the garden was by comparison!

Snow!  That second picture was taken on the 27th of November last year – almost a week short of a year ago.  Even the first picture shows the heavy frosts we were already getting.  So far I’ve not noticed frost on the ground during the day and even at night we’re rarely dropping to zero degrees.  Things are still green and growing – though I have a lot more junk lying around for ‘future plans’ ;)

I also have a lot more food plants which are actually growing – winter radish, kale, mustard greens; and a few flowers, carnation and cosmos, which are still going for broke – though the cosmos will likely fall over as soon as we get a good hard frost.  I’m holding off on cutting it back until then as its tall stems and feathery foliage still give a nice structure to the garden – acting as a ‘fence’ between the front and back portions.

 

 

 

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Acidity

Since the beginning of September, I’ve been attending one of the RBGE’s short courses – specifically ‘An Introduction to Horticulture’.  It’s been a really enjoyable course –  especially the last lesson, which was centred on soil properties and composition.  We were asked to bring in small soil samples from our gardens to do a pH test on so I brought three samples – one from the ‘oldest’ bed, one from this years newly cultivated bed and one from the newly dug back bed.  To say the results were surprising would be a gross understatement.  I’d suspected the soil at the back wasn’t great quality, and knew it would need a decent injection of organic material to get it off to a good start but I did not suspect quite how bad it was.

The tutor borrowed one of my samples to show us how to use the chemicals and it was whilst I was working on adding the bits and pieces to my second test tube that I heard an amused “what in the world do you grow in this soil?” .  I looked to the front of the classroom to see a red container.  Not just a wee bit red but BRIGHT RED.  The colour wasn’t even on the chart which the tutor passed around – she estimated the pH of my soil to be around 4.5!    pH 5 is considered ‘very acid soil’ and for those who’ve not done chemistry for a while, pH runs on a scale of 0-14 with 0 being the most acid and 14 most alkali (though it can go outwith those values, but for simplicity’s sake…).  It’s a logarithmic scale, meaning that a soil with a pH of four is ten times as acid as one at five – so it’s not even just a ‘wee bit more acid’.

What this means in real terms is that there are very few nutrients available to the plant – many of the nutrients plants use react with other things at lower or higher acidities – which most being available for the use of plants around the neutral range.  It completely explains why my hydrangea was having trouble, even as a plant which can usually handle both fairly acidic or alkaline soils.  I’m not sure, to be honest, how the daffodils planted there have managed to cope, but I can perhaps understand why they didn’t always flower – they probably just couldn’t get the required mineral nutrients for that kind of growth.

Action, then, was needed.  There are several ways to deal with acidic soil – as our tutor went over in class.  The first, and most basic, was to put in acid-loving plants – but this is rather limiting and with my soil even acid loving plants might have issues.  The second is to add organic material – preferably not too much leaf mould as that is fairly acidic, too.  This is slow-acting and I had already begun to do this as it’s my preferred method overall for improving my soil.  The third is to add lime – which will help increase the pH more quickly but need to be reapplied to keep the pH up.  I’ve also decided to go down this route – even if just to ‘sweeten’ the soil a little more, so that it’s not deadly-death to most plants.  I’m hoping that liming it now will help with the spring bulbs and give me a decent soil to plant into come early summer, and, thenceforth, I can plant a wider range of plants and continue to improve the soil to allow it to be a better growing environment.

The other big surprise, for me, was that my ‘good’ veg bed showed as fairly acidic too.  Not nearly on the scale of the back bed, but definitely acid rather than neutral.  This surprises me as I’ve grown a fair bit of veg in there – including some good sized brassicas which I’ve read prefer alkaline soil.  The last ‘surprise’ was at least a good one – the side bed, which I dug at the beginning of this year, has fairly neutral soil which bodes well for next year!  I may try adding a little extra lime to whichever area I decide to grow my brassicas in (which I’ll need to decide soon, to give it enough time to break down) to see if that gives them a boost of some sort.

In other news, this year is mild – I still have sunflowers (above) blooming in November!  My poor broad beans have come up and are growing away like monsters – unless we have a super-mild winter they’re doomed so I’ve planted some more, hoping that this lot will only just peek their heads above ground before harsher weather comes along.

 

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October Cleanup

Usually, in the winter, the patio is desolate – stripped of all of the bags of potatoes, gladioli and other sun-loving plants which I grow there.   I have wanted to reclaim some of the land under the patio since we moved on, but was held back by the fact that the patio is actually useful, and a nice place to have a barbecue, however, I decide there was a way to kill two birds with one stone – get more planting space and liven up the patio during the winter – removing some of the slabs around the edge.  This preserves the width of the patio but allows me to plant some shrubs!  If you can’t quite see them, the shrubs in question are buddleja!

I’m a big fan of these hardy bushes which are vigorous, attract insects and have a nice, fairly open, silhouette when not in flower.  These particular ones, too, were grown from seed – I have no idea what colour they are but of the three which I managed to grow to this stage they all have very different leaf colours and shapes and differing bark colours.  They are davidii, but beyond that?  Could be white, magenta or lilac!  I’m also hoping that by planting them in the ground now they’ll make it through the winter better than in pots.  They had already filled their pots with roots so they really should have been repotted sooner, but I’d been slacking a little on getting these new ‘beds’ done.

Behind the half-barrel is another mini-bed – not sure what will go there, yet! In the half-barrel itself is an Acer, which went straight from summer-colour to winter leaflessness.  I’ve heard that it’s common for Acers to drop their leaves all at once but I think this might have been a stress reaction due to being in a too-sunny spot during the summer and also being transplanted a little late.  The branches all have little buds, though, so I’ll look forward to it doing well next year in a shadier spot.  During winter it’s staying where it is, though, as our light levels drop so much that even the sunniest spot in the garden hardly gets much light all day.  The joys of living in the north, eh?

The rest of the garden is also still a little messy – I need to figure out what to do with the pile of decorative slabs!  The sunflowers are still doing pretty well and I’m even managing to grow some ‘small’ green stuff again.  The slugs must be starting to hibernate! Mwuhaha.

‘Dragon’s Tongue’ in the foreground, mibuna way at the back and I have no idea what’s in the middle as I seem to have lost the label – probably ‘Green Wave’ mustard greens.  Next to them is the late daikon I put in – it seems to be doing well and despite being grown outside of the cloche the slugs don’t seem to have looked at it much – guess they don’t like the taste!

This little geranium is still trying hard, despite the cool nights –

Oddly, it’s blooming pink – it was blooming deep red a month or two back!  Maybe the cold, whilst not killing it off, is affecting the colours of the flowers?  Or maybe the nutrients in the soil are less available in the cooler weather.

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Planning Ahead

I’ve now dragged my garden through the best part of two summer growing seasons and I’ve tried a whole bunch of different crops.  My method for choosing what to grow wasn’t very complex – ‘oh, those look cool, I’ll try them!’ – with the one caveat that I didn’t try to grow anything destined to fail in eastern Scotland (except, perhaps, sweetcorn, but that’s a year-to-year thing).  I’ve now learned that there are a few things that probably aren’t worth the space or effort and a few varieties which grow better for me than others.  There are, of course, a few border cases but I’ve drawn up a provisional list of what’s in and what’s not for next year so I can begin to work on a layout / plan for next year’s gardening adventure.

Not Even Bothering*

  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Sprouts
  • Chillis
  • Coriander (of the type I have, at least)
  • Purple Sprouting Broccoli
  • ‘Mixed Salad’

I’ve not had any luck with onions any time I’ve grown them – no matter when I start them off they never get to be much bigger than ping-pong balls and they take up a fair bit of room in my small garden as well as being relatively cheap to buy anyway.  Tomatoes are just too much to worry about and I’m worried about them attracting bugs which will infect my potatoes.  The shops are starting to sell some really nice tomatoes, so it’s not as big a loss as it might otherwise have been.  Sprouts take up a lot of room for a small crop.  I’m dithering, though, as fresh sprouts are lovely, but also rather cheap to buy.  Chillis (except my small venezuelan ones) have never worked for me.  They either fail to thrive (indoors) or die (outdoors) so after years of trying I’m not going to bother next year.  Coriander grows well, but the variety I’ve got is a seed type and I really want one which emphasizes leaves.  PSB I adore but… it also takes up a lot of room in the garden.  I might allow myself one plant in  a corner, as it is a favourite.

(*probably, I am a sucker for banging my head off of a brick wall, sometimes ;P)

Trying Harder

  • Leeks
  • Parsnip
  • Carrot
  • Peas
  • Beans (pole, bush, & broad)
  • Root Parsley
  • Squash
  • Turnips

All of the above I grew but could have done better at.  I don’t know that the problem is with my beans – everyone else seems to have no trouble with them but they don’t tend to grow that well for me… Perhaps a different support structure or more/less time indoors (I’d love to try direct planting but I’ve never had any germinate that way!).  The root parsley, (second batch) turnips and squash were mainly victims of going into the ground too late.

Certain Bets

  • Beetroot
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard Greens
  • Pak Choi
  • Spring Onions
  • Potatoes

These are all things which have grown well for me each time I’ve grown them.  Even with the troubles I had at times with the potatoes, they’re still something I wouldn’t be without.  Whilst you can get cheap potatoes from the supermarket, Andy and I can never eat a whole bag to ourselves before they go off and so growing our own, where we can harvest a few at a time, works well.  There’s also a stunning variety of potatoes we can grow at home which just aren’t available at the supermarket – as we found out at the Dundee Flower & Food Festival!

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Stormstruck

I feel like I escaped relatively unscathed from the storms, to be honest.  The worst off plants were just a little pushed around – no severe damage, no loss-of-shed-roof or any of that sort of thing.  My smaller, red, velvet queen sunflowers are all looking a little drunken but they’ve not been uprooted.  The taller ones were more of a surprise – I truly expected the two which peeked over the fence to be decapitated by the wind as I had nothing tall enough to stake them all the way up with.  However, as you can see below, they came out fairly unscathed =)

The gladis didn’t fare so well, but I had expected as much – having cut all of the other tall flower spikes which were nearly over yesterday.  These two still had a few flowers on them so I figured I’d give them a chance and see how they stood up to the winds.  Surprisingly, the one on the right hand side was salvageable but the other had to be added to the compost heap.

The sweetcorn, as you can see, was fairly flattened – but again, it was salvageable enough with some heavy soil piled up to give the lower stems a bit more support.  Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the greenhouses are still both intact and didn’t feel the need to fall over!

One odd little thing I found was that there was a wee lupin which had decided to flower rather late – a bit of a bad time for it to poke its head up, to be honest!  The few casualties that did occur – a few sunflowers and the gladis which weren’t wrecked, were brought inside to give a nice display out of the wind.

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End of Summer Garden Roundup

This is the slightly sorry state of the garden at the moment:

 

This summer hasn’t been a particularly kind one – early hot weather followed by sullen, dull cloudy days have meant that, whilst spring was fairly bountiful and I managed to get good early crops, the summer harvest has been a little mean.  The striking gladioli are now nearly done, except for one late-planted container, most of the red sunflowers are starting to droop, lose their petals and set seed and the marigolds are starting to look a bit tatty.  The lettuce, left from early summer, has bolted.  It looks pretty, though, so I’ve left it to do it’s thing. The poor sweetcorn is trying its best – one of them even has the start of a tassel!  It’s a baby corn variety, so you never know – I might yet get a small crop and, if nothing else, they have pretty hefty root systems so they’ll have helped to break up the soil a little =)

Slugs have been a big problem this year because of the wet summer weather – I was pretty vigilant about getting the eggs and caterpillars off my brassicas but I needn’t have bothered as the slimy little buggers came in and demolished them anyway.  I had to give up on two big cabbages, the tail end of my purple sprouting broccoli and some cauliflowers which they’d devoured into oblivion.  I decided to plant a last set of lettuce under cover as well as some winter veg.  The very next morning I came out to find my baby lettuces gone.  Not a stump, nor leaf.  Nothing.  Eaten to the ground. Cue slugmageddon – I went out one night, in the rain, to collect and dispose of a huge pile of them.  Hopefully the reduction in numbers will give my other little plants a better chance to establish – I really grudge paying for bags of salad now.

The side garden has also suffered a little from slug damage – mostly the violas which they seem to like eating the flowers of, oddly.  I need something to fill out the back region until the hebes grow a little bigger, though, as it looks a little bare.

As I mentioned, I’ve put in some seedlings under cover.  It took a little wrangling to get the cloche in place – squeezing it between the sunflowers, cauliflowers and marigolds – but I finally got it in there, with some plants (such as the almost-completely-eaten bush beans) now enjoying some extra cover and giving me a space to start off some kale, chard, mustard greens and whatever I put where the lettuce was.

The other pic above was taken just before we went on holiday, earlier in August – I’ve never grown anything other than small nanus or butterfly type gladioli before so the height of a full-size one was something of an eye-opener.  Even discounting the tub the ‘White Prosperity’ gladis were taller than me.  The others didn’t grow quite as tall, with ‘Espresso’ being the second tallest and ‘Green Star’ the third.  You can see the tiny little ‘Laguna’ butterfly gladioli right at the front of the tub for comparison – not even half the height and much smaller flowers.

 

This was a little harvest I picked last week – some beetroot, ‘Yetholm Gypsy’ potatoes, nasturtiums, alpine strawberries (which are still flowering and fruiting and have been since spring), various beans and one very small onion.  I’ve also harvested my first ever home-grown tomatoes!  This variety is ‘Yellow Scotland’.  The odd markings are likely due to them not being watered for ten days due to the holiday but it shouldn’t make any difference in taste.  There are quite a few left on the plant to ripen, but I’m not sure how many will make it before it gets too cold – might need to make some green tomato chutney or let them cuddle up to a banana in a dark place for a few days.

The ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ bean in the hanging planters is actually managing to produce beans!  I didn’t think it would be wet enough in the bags to keep them going but it seems that they are one beneficiary of the dull summer and are really enjoying all of this damp weather – the peas, too, which are doing better now than they had in the last three months.  The squash, below, is ‘Boston’ and has started rather late in the season – I’m not sure it’ll make it to any sort of maturity but at least I actually managed to get a squash to grow, flower and set fruit which is a fairly big improvement over last year’s no-shows.

Next on my list is bulb planting, clearing out anything else which is ‘done’ to make way for autumn planting, taking cuttings, and finally getting around to removing more patio slabs around the outer edge to increase my growing area ;)

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Italy

After a gruelling two-day journey due to delayed flights we’re finally back in Scotland.  I think we were all glad to be back home and the trip already seems like a far-away warm memory, especially with the weather being nearly a full 20 degrees cooler, but I can say for myself that Italy, its people, way of living and food have all left a big impression on me.  Sadly, I didn’t take pictures of any of the food we ate with the exception of one pizza on our last evening – we were simply too busy greedily munching it.  I still can’t believe the sheer volume we ate and the amount of meat and cheese that seem to be the common ingredients of so many Italian dishes – my stomach was having a little trouble with digesting all of it, given that I’m used to far less of both at home.

Food

I lost count of the number of pizzas and bowls of pasta we ate, as well as bruschetta.  Bruschetta may be my new favourite food – we tried many variations but the plain tomato ones were my favourites as all Italian tomatoes I tasted seemed to all burst with flavour.  The rows upon rows in the grocers of types we’d normally only see in ‘supermarket premium brand’ boxes were being offered there in big open boxes.  The other variations I tried (and liked) were ones which had finely chopped artichoke over them, some kind of sausage meat spread, and salted bread with plain mozzarella.  Yum.  The other food we tried and that I fell in love with is arrosticini. A regional food from Abruzzo (where Pescara is), consisting of small cubes of mutton on skewers cooked over a fairly hot charcoal brazier and salted just as they finish cooking. I’m determined to see if I can replicate these in Scotland – it may require a trip to the butcher as mutton is something I’ve rarely come across in a supermarket.

Salt was something I noticed being used a lot more in native Italian cooking (compared to ‘Italian’ food we get here) – it really brings out a lot of the natural flavours of mozzarella and tomatoes and gave what might have otherwise been bland dishes a flavour which was mouthwatering.  None of the food we found on offer had spices in it, either – salt seemed to be the main flavour enhancer beside the simple high quality ingredients used.

On that note, I can’t wait until my greenhouse tomatoes have ripened! One is very slowly turning yellow for me and is being checked every morning and evening with longing hope.  The first one to ripen will be quickly bruschetta-ized!

Plants

When it came to plants Italy was a strange mix of wildly exotic and oddly lacking. There were massive ‘hot-house’ plants on almost every street and trailing plants taking over housefronts as well as little bits of greenery just everywhere but, other the other hand, it was so dry in Rome that the ground was parched – having that odd ‘dots of green in a sandy landscape’ look.  I guess I’m just too used to verdant Scotland where every scrap of bare land tends to be colonised by one weed or another and grass rarely dries out even in a sunny summer.

It was amazing, though, to see plants I’d only ever seen in glasshouses (or at least, ones of that size) out in the street doing well – fruiting and flowering.  Thriving.  Grass didn’t seem to be as common in the areas we were in – it had mostly been overtaken by low carpeting weeds and I wonder if that had anything to do with the much drier climate.  One of our hosts was telling us that they get hot, dry weather from May through to October! Wow.  Of course, both the places we were in were near the sea and the mountains, when we drove through them, looked a lot more lush.

Whilst we were away I kept a little diary so that I wouldn’t forget all of the ‘little things’ as well as the big, so I’m going to mark down what I’ve written for posterity.

Rome

Sunday night – arrived, went out to grab a quick drink.  Andy was overcharged for a half-litre of beer (~9€).  We sank into bed in an un-air-conditioned room near the centre of Rome in temperatures hitting the 30s.  We’d been travelling since around 12midday and arrived about 10pm local time.

Monday – Had a small lie in to shrug off the effects of travel and then headed out into Rome.  We pounded the streets for hours – taking in the Trevi fountain, Pantheon, the riverside, a tonne of small piazzas and had lunch in a lovely area where many artists had set up stalls to sell paintings and do artwork on the spot.  We loved this place as it had an air-con composed of a fan with a water mister which periodically sprayed the whole area.  Delightfully refreshing.  That was out first pizza in Italy!  We also had our first Italian gelato on our way between monuments – incredibbly yummy.  For dinner we went to a place near the hotel – it had lovely lasagne (which almost all of us had) and we might have had a few bottles of wine after which everyone else (there were six of us travelling together) attempted to teach me poker.

Tuesday – Possibly my favourite day in Rome – we visited the Colosseum and did an audio tour, Forum Romano, and Palatine Hill all before lunch.  We’d gotten up early as we knew the queues would be bad.  We had gelato outside the Colosseum from a Metro station!  All around Rome there are tonnes of water spigots with fresh, cold water in them.  Andy tried these and found them to be more than a little refreshing so we filled up our bottles (and hats) several times whilst wandering around.  This was great as it meant we didn’t have to carry so much water with us.

We spent a good while looking for a cash machine for one of our group as his card seemed to have limited acceptance and found a little place to have dinner on the way back to the hotel – my first Italian carbonara.  I think I prefer the British style, I guess I’m a bit of a philistine =(  It was lovely, though, all the same!  Andy had an amazing gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, though, that I absolutely adored. The beer we had here was judged to be ‘one of the best ever’ simply by the merit of being frosty cold when we were incredibly thirsty and tired from walking around.

We also had pizza for dinner that night in a very small, busy place.  It was really good, but I was still a bit full from lunch.  To our detriment, probably, we found that that local ‘wee shop’ had bottles of drinkable wine for 99 cent.

Wednesday – Our last day in Rome was spent having a long lie in, doing some quick souvenir shopping, grabbing some very tasty pastries from a local shop and then heading to go see Vatican City.  Our first Metro trip was a squeeze but fun.  It was a very, very hot day but we found some relief inside at the basilica etc.  I think I got a sore neck from craning up at all of the amazing artwork / sculptures.

After the basilica we went for a ‘wander’.  Our map showed us that there were some viewpoints nearby and we figured that we’d go past them on our way to the place we’d been recommended for dinner.  There were, indeed, spectacular views of the city and, as we climbed up, there were also more monuments and statues – including rows of busts – commemorating the (I think) wars of Unification.  It was a beautiful, peaceful walk which took you out of the way of that constant ‘city’ feel and into something a bit gentler.  I really enjoyed it, and by the time we were done was totally ready for dinner ;)

We had a really big meal for our last night in Rome – in a place where our friends had been before and even being served by the same waiter.  We had to, at least one, try a ‘large beer’ – one litre!  It was nice and light and actually not badly priced.  Dinner, for me, was a pasta with a white sauce, langoustines and courgettes which was lovely and which I’d like to try to replicate.  The white sauce seemed like it might be ricotta / oil based but I’m still not 100% sure. I had a greek salad, too, and was so glad to be able to get some greenery in me.  At home I eat salad nearly every day so my stomach, by this point, was really starting to complain a little at me overworking it =(

We walked back from south of the river to our hotel – a good hour and a half walk – and whilst it was hot, it was nice to walk through Rome in the dark, get some pictures, and have one last look before we headed off to Pescara.

Pescara

Pescara is on the opposite coast of Italy – almost directly across from Rome – and is the epitome of a seaside resort.  It was sunny, hot (hotter than Rome!) and fairly busy at nights but generally friendly and a nice place to relax.  To get there we took a bus through the mountains – there was beautiful scenery but I was feeling a little under the weather so I missed most of it whilst curled up around my kindle.  The hotel we stayed at there was beautiful – and had aircon which was instantly put down to 15C.

Thursday – Arrived in Pescara in early evening, unpacked, and generally revelled in the air-con.  Went out for dinner to a nearby shore-side restuarant (and there were hundreds of these) and had some seafood – Pescara’s ‘speciality’.  Andy’s dish was many small fish and bits of seafood fried whole.  It looked amazing – as did the calamari which was the best I’ve yet tried.  There were tonnes of palms with fruits on them.

Friday – We spent the day by the seaside.  I threw some seaweed on Andy which he responded to by shrieking like a wee girl ;D Got to use my Irn Bru beach towels for the first time (spot the Scottish tourist), read my kindle all day under a sunshade on the beach.  It was so nice and relaxing.  At some point Andy disappeared and returned with a quarter watermelon.  This was in season, I think, and being sold everywhere at ridiculously cheap prices.  It was so wonderfully sweet that even I liked it – I pretty much refuse to eat watermelon in the UK because I find it watery and tasteless.  He also had his eye out for the granita man – a vendor on the beach selling shaved ice slushies.  These were delicious and bought at nearly every point available to help with keeping temperatures down.

That evening, an Italian friend of our friends came to take us to a place where they eat arrosticini. It was amazingly tasty and a great night – we explained scottish dialect and what garlic bread was to some of them and they told us how we should eat arrosticini and a bit about the region and why it was popular.  They were all lovely and friendly people =)

 Saturday – Chilled start to the day followed by more beach time.  I went swimming for what must have been the first time in over ten years.  I forgot how much I missed it – especially swimming under water. Andy got a random, tiny hermit crab in his shoe whilst we played volleyball (badly).

We discovered ‘Nutella & Go’ in the local supermarket – a choc-dip with built in iced tea.  Brilliant idea!  Dinner was in the hotel.  It was expensive but really nice and, because we were the first to eat, we had about six waiters for our table for the first little while.

Sunday –  We were getting really fatigued by this point (too much good fun!) but were invited to the home of one of the Italians friends.  It was the most amazing evening of the whole holiday.  They treated us to home-made pizza (someone’s Mama brought it over freshly baked), home-made pasta with home-made sauce from home-made tomatoes.  There was more arrosticini – cooked over an arrosticini ‘barbecue’ – a long, thin, charcoal brazier made to hold the skewers which had a larger piece on the end for grilling your bruschetta.  Then there was singing.  My goodness.  You’d have thought they were a proper choir – two guitars were brought out and a violin and we were treated to Wild Rover & Sweet Molly Malone, some (silly) Italian songs which they helped us learn and then some beautiful Alpini songs.  Whisky, cigars (not for me) and dark chocolate, a beautiful terrace under dark, countryside night-time skies, with crickets and cicadas all around and with people singing in the background.  Indescribable, really.

Monday – We slept in until ~1 after having such a great, but late night.  Andy had managed to get a little sunburnt over the last few days and (we now reckon) a bit of dermatitis from the suncream of all things!  We packed, lazed around and then went out for one last Italian dinner.  I had a ‘white pizza’ – which has no tomato paste – and we all tried to think what we could do for when one of the Italians comes to visit us.  We think we’re going to be hard pushed to show him as good a time.

Tuesday – We knew today would be ‘travel day’ but we didn’t expect quite how it’d turn out.  We got on a bus directly to the airport from Pescara – a four hour journey in which I did actually manage to see the countryside, thankfully.  When we got to the airport we were a little early, but there were no other busses which would have gotten us there at the right time so we knew we’d have to wait a bit. When we went to the ticket desk, however, we were told our flight was delayed by an hour.  Knowing we had a connection flight which was 45 minutes after landing we were understandably concerned.  This being BA, however, we were told we’d be looked after – which would, given our late entry into the UK, mean a night in London.  Once we’d resigned ourselves to that fact we waited.  And waited.  And Waited.  It ended up being nearly 1hr 45 minutes late  due to unforseen weather conditions on the way but once we got on the plane he made it back to the UK in pretty good time (cutting off about 30 minutes).  Once in London we were whisked away to a Premiere in and given vouchers for dinner and breakfast.  It was 10pm by now and we had left Pescara around 10am.  Oh and our flight the next morning had a check-in time of ~6.50.  to say we were knackered is an understatement but it was a nice dinner, a good bed, and we made it back into Scotland at around 8am.  I love BA, by the way.

I do note that I’m utterly terrified of flying, but I managed to struggle through four flights and I’m glad I did as it was a fantastic holiday =)

Unfortunately I’ve been pretty ill since I came back, so I’ve not had much of a will to write things until now.  Hopefully things will be going back to ‘schedule’, though.

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Now /That/ is Green!

I really like green flowers – not sure why, to be honest, perhaps it’s just the novelty.  I was a little disappointed with my ‘Laguna’ gladioli last year (and this) in that they were really more of a pale yellow once open and had a lot of pink to them, too.  This variety, though, ‘Green Star’ is absolutely and positively green.  Four of this year’s gladis have come up so far – ‘Green Star’, ‘Espresso’, ‘White Prosperity’ and ‘Laguna’.  Of them, I admit both Green star and White Prosperity are favourites – though the ‘Laguna’ are rather sweet simply by contrast as they’re a small variety planted amongst giants.  I’d never grown large or even standard sized gladioli before – always little butterfly or nanus varieties – so I wasn’t entirely prepared for the spectacular spikes on some of these plants.

‘White Prosperity’ in particular has given me some spectacularly tall spikes – around 7 and 1/2 feet tall!  Both it and ‘Green Star’ have also given well spaced flowers and, unlike ‘Espresso’ (which didn’t turn out nearly as dark as the packaging suggested) the blooms last a while so that the spike isn’t completely bare and ugly at the bottom by the time the top flowers are emerging.  ‘Espresso’ flowers died very quickly, were too closely spaces on the spike.  So far, I’ve somehow managed to be quite lucky and haven’t seen signs of any thrips damage.  I have, however, spied quite a few pollen beetles.  They seem to be really common this year, though I suspect I’m simply seeing more because I have more flowers growing.

 Also looking very green at the moment are the couple of cabbages which were members of the ‘misc brassica’ section until recently.  They’re hearting up, but also attracting a lot of attention from small, white, fluttering menaces and their spawn… Next year I really, really need to get some netting for my brassicas.

One the ‘other large flowers’ side, we have these ‘Velvet Queen’ sunflowers.  I wasn’t expecting these to be a tall type – I had assumed, since I knew they were multi-headed, that they’d be smaller bush types but apparently not!  Serves me right for not reading the pack more carefully.  Still, I think they’re amazing – they range from deep red to a burnt copper-bronze, each plant has produced a pile of flower heads and they stand 5-6 feet in height – not the tallest, but a fairly good backdrop height.

They also look fabulous in the rain:

A quick update on the ‘Way Back There’ garden – I’ve done some temporary and some ‘semi-permanent’ planting.  The buddleja, hydrangea, dahlias and carex are there to stay (hopefully) and the rest are former denizens of the patio and one of the greenhouses.  The dahlias will, of course, need to be lifted – the ground here is way too cold and wet in winter to leave them in the ground and the rest of the temporary planting are all annuals which won’t survive the winter.  Since a lot of the planting I’m planning on won’t go in until next year anyway it seemed like a good idea to plant these excess, temporary plants.  First off, it’ll let me see quickly if there are nutrient deficiencies that I’ll need to address before next years’ annuals go in, secondly it’ll allow for, hopefully, better growth for the ones which are to make it their permanent home – especially the buddleja and hydrangea.  It will also, hopefully, make it look a little less bare and give a splash of colour into the autumn months.

The tiles have turned out to be really valuable for moving about in the bed – reducing the amount of soil compacted by heavy trudging.  I’m excited to see what colour the buddleja is – it’s a bit of a lottery given I sowed mixed seed.  Given that it has red stems I’m guessing it might be one of the more pink-red stemmed varieties as these are the only ones I can find pictures of which have reddish stems – the rest having silvery or silvery-brown stems.  I’d love a white buddleja but I’m guessing the likelihood of that is slim in a random mixed-seed batch.

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Next Project & Autumn / Winter Sowings

Didn’t get my Tuesday post in this week due to being busy in the garden – not a bad excuse at all, to my mind ;)  I’ve been working on my next ‘project’ for the garden – converting the back piece of ground into a plantable flower bed – it’ll be where I get to plant some non-edibles.  It was a reasonably pretty part of the garden in spring, with daffodils showing up brightly against the grey slate stones, but for most of the year it was a little dull, with only the holly tree and tall stump for interest.  It seemed like a waste of space to leave it all covered in stones like that when I’m desperate for any growing space so it was time to get the space out!

The first picture was from early in this year when I was digging over the new side bed – it shows the back section and how barren it is with no plants.  The second picture was where I’d got to in one go – clearing as much stone as I could and double digging the centre section, adding bags of manure to it as I went.  The third picture shows what I got done on Tuesday – the corner section has been dug, the fruit canes (which were doing terribly in that spot) have been lifted, separated and moved and I’ve added a few stones so I don’t have to step all over the freshly turned over, loose soil.  It’s a bit lumpy, but it started to rain so I had to run inside and took the photo from the window.

It’s a very well drained spot, gets good light in spring and autumn and part shade over half of it in summer (due to a tree in next door’s garden).  It is a big area compared to my other beds and will allow me to plant some of the bigger shrubs I want to grow such as this little beauty:

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bombshell’ – I really like hydrangeas, who cares if they’re ‘fashionable’ or not!  This modern variety is a fairly compact one and, as it’s a paniculata, is one of the hardiest types – able to survive down to -20C.  That should be useful, given our recent bad winters.  Once I see what colour their flowers are some of the buddleja may go in here and I’m hoping to get a nice strongly scented, white rose – preferably a shrub or climbing type – suggestions welcome.  I’ve already got a small pile of seeds for both annuals and perennials ready for next year, too – as well as some dahlias and fritillary bulbs.

This year’s project is coming along ‘ok’.  The brassicas seem to love the soil in the ‘Sunnyside’ garden, as I’ve dubbed it, but a few other things are suffering either as a result of poor growing conditions, bad weather or my major nemesis this year: slugs!  The soil I bought which was supposedly meant for raised gardens or starting new beds isn’t all that great – it’s fairly strawy, dries out fast and generally was not as good quality as I’d have liked.  Because of this I’ve decided that once all of the plants are done in this bed for the year I’m going to heavily compost it and possibly re-dig it.  I’m not fond of the idea of re-digging it as it’d mean messing up any nice soil ecology which has managed to establish itself this year but I’m not sure if leaving all of the poorly composted material on top is a great idea either.  I may only loosely dig it over and hope that, with the added properly composted material, the winter frosts will take care of breaking it down to something a little finer.  Any thoughts on this would be appreciated!

My gladioli this year are… monstrous!  I’m used to growing butterfly types – you can see one of them at the very front, the yellow and pink.  The red flowers are large hybrid types (‘Espresso’) and are about the size of my hand!  They seem to die a lot quicker than the butterfly types, though.  If you look right in the middle of the picture you can see a very, very tall flower spike.  I have no idea which variety it is, yet, but that spike is about as tall as me!

Pinks seem to be dominating the garden in August – from the delicate shades of the little gladis, to the bright pink and white fuschias and more delicate tones on the begonia and bean flowers.

Apparently my gladis weren’t the only ones growing overly tall – I had to pick my potato up as it fell over with the weight of water on it from the frequent showers we’ve been having.  It seems to be ok, just rather tall and spindly for a potato, hence the accident.  It’s ‘Yetholm Gypsy’, my main crop, and I’ve yet to try any of them.

Another little oddity was this tri-branched cyme stalk on my vine tomatoes:

All of my other tomatoes have just single cyme per stalk, but this plant likes producing them in threes, as though it’s a bush type – unsurprising maybe, given it’s a bush-vine hybrid but it’s growing otherwise entirely like a vine (it was the tallest and fastest growing before I stopped it).  My tomatoes all seem to be doing fairly well, so far (fingers crossed) and I’m hoping that I get to taste at least one before we head off on holidays.  If not, I expect to come back to a fair crop!

Lastly, I’ve started some autumn and winter crop seeds.  I had planted all of these directly a few weeks ago but with only a couple of exceptions the slugs seem to have murderised the lot.  This set, therefore, are being coddled in the greenhouse until they’re big enough to handle a few chomps without keeling over.

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Flowers & Seeds

Now that we’re past the half-way line of summer it’s time to get ready to start the wind-down.  Even though some plants have just gone in, a lot of others are now beginning to wrap up their yearly efforts and set seed.  Particularly of note are those plants which are normally biennials but which, if you make inroads now, could be flowering next year.  In my garden that means foxgloves – which I’m collecting the second the little conical seed pods start shading to brown.

I’ve marked all of my foxgloves and lupins, this year as to what colour the parent plant was.  They’re open pollinated, but given the information here and here I think I can safely say that my white with purple spots foxglove plants will majoritarily produce white seedlings due to being white-dominant (i.e. they have a gene which means that magenta colouration is ‘overwritten’) but the white with green spots could be much more variable as they are a recessive white form, shown when there is no information for magenta to start with.  I may be mixing that up, so any input would be more than welcome.  Next year I’ll likely attempt hand pollination as I’d like to increase my odds of getting more white foxgloves – especially those with green throat spots!  Some of these are earmarked for auntie Beth but if there’s anyone keen on having some, let me know as I suspect within the next month or so I’ll have rather a lot of seed.

Also likely to produce a lot of seed are my lupins – mixed dwarf and tall varieties varying from white to purple and various shades of pink  as well as bi-colours thereof which I’d be happy to share with anyone who wants – they’re a really good plant for bullying out other weeds if you’ve not got a lot of time to spend on weeding or if you have a rough patch of ground.  The big downside to lupins is that they’re herbaceous perennials so have nothing to show for themselves during winter!

Some other plants which tend to produce large amounts of seeds are also coming into flower at the moment:

The sunflower is a new type for me this year (‘Velvet Queen’) and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to harvest true to type seeds from it as my other sunflowers – a tall plain yellow variety – won’t bloom for a while yet.  The dill is from seed I saved myself last year and will hopefully give me more this year.  I really need to use more dill – it’s ended up as more of a decorative plant as I’m not used to using it in the kitchen.  Anyone got some good (non-pickle) recipes?

Another edible flower growing rather well at the moment is the purple sprouting broccoli.  I took the large main bud off of it a few days ago and the side shoots have exploded with growth – they seem to be one of the few plants doing really well in the new veg bed – along with the cabbaged and cauliflowers.  I suspect it may be that they enjoy the heavy soil a lot more than the other plants.  Either way, given I’d thought I wouldn’t have any sprouting broccoli this year, I’m rather looking forward to putting these on my plate!

Other flowers just coming into bloom are this lovely white dianthus – likely edible but I’d feel bad tearing apart that beautiful blossom head and a flower with an ‘edible name’ or sippable, anyway – Gladioli ‘Espresso’.  I’m really looking forward to those unfurling as their colour is already spectacular when the light catches the buds.

 Last but not least, this week I bagged a squash.  This poor thing had been in a pot for ages – the usual conundrum of having sown too many expecting more fatalities, thus ending up with spare plants.  When I removed a potato, though, I realised I could reuse the bag for my squash!  A quick clean and re-fill later and I now have a patio squash.  Hopefully it’ll take to its new home – at the very least it’s better than a tiny wee pot!

 

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